The backing of sporting legend and International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Kipchoge ‘Kip’ Keino reflects growing support for what has been dubbed Sri Lanka’s ‘life-changing’ bid to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
The Kenyan – whose Commonwealth gold in the mile and three miles at the 1966 Games in Kingston, Jamaica, launched him onto the international stage – endorsed the Hambantota 2018 bid this week. Speaking at a press conference ahead of the 2 October Colombo Marathon, the two-time Olympic Gold medallist said the Games would help accelerate the development of the country's aspiring athletes.
"I came to see what Sri Lanka can offer a Commonwealth Games in 2018," said Keino. "What I saw here is a nation very rich with humanity, culture and great hospitality. I also saw a country with great potential in the field of sports. There are talented athletes in this country who are eager to move up to the global arena and what they need is exposure."
His comments are another boost to a bid which sees the Games as an opportunity to enthuse a new generation of athletes nationwide in a wide range of sports. Such ambitions are supported by a new seven-year National Sports Plan. Launched by the Ministry of Sports it seeks to create a pyramid of sporting opportunity throughout Sri Lanka and – ultimately – develop a pool of high performance sportsmen and women ready to compete in 2018.
“Kip is rightly regarded as one of the most influential athletes in history,” said Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Hambantota 2018 Organising Committee Co-Chairman and Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. “He was a huge inspiration to other Kenyan athletes; he gave them the belief that they too could compete at the highest level. Also look at the dominance they have enjoyed. In bidding for and hosting these prestigious Games we hope to be just as inspirational.”
Those leading the bid point to the ‘extraordinary change’ in Malaysia’s sporting success as a result of hosting the Games; prior to doing so in 1998 the nation’s medal tally was four per Games but has since risen to about 35. They hope hosting the Games will bring similar success and in the same way the country has done extraordinarily well in cricket. Admitted as a Test-plating nation in 1981, Sri Lanka won the World Cup just 15 years later (1996) and finished runners-up in both 2007 and earlier this year when Hambantota itself staged two matches.
“As Kip says, the talent is there but we just need a little inspiration and organisation,” Cabraal added. “Games-related development programmes will promote sport for all, encourage increased and sustained levels of participation, and identify and develop talent. In addition, there will be investment at grassroots level through in schools, development of local sports clubs, up-skilling of coaches and greater involvement of National Sports Federations at all levels.”
Two years on from his success in Kingston, Keino claimed gold in the 1500 metres and silver in the 5000 metres at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Commonwealth gold and bronze medals followed in the 1500 and 5000 metres respectively in Edinburgh (1970) before he again struck Olympic gold in Munich (1972) in the 3000 metres steeplechase and silver in 1500 meters.
His comments follow the visit of an African delegation of Commonwealth members – the second in a series of regional ‘inward missions’ ahead of the vote to decide the host city. Having hosted representatives from the Caribbean and Americas earlier this year, Hambantota 2018 welcomes those from both Europe and Oceania next month and Asia in October.
Meanwhile the bid has won the full support of Sri Lankan cricket legend Muttiah Muralitharan: "I still remember the glory of winning the Cricket World Cup in 1996. We will have the same glory as then by being the host city of the Commonwealth Games in 2018,” he says.
The host city will be announced at the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) general assembly in St Kitts & Nevis on 11 November 2011.